Physical Video Rental and Sales Outlet Scarecrow Video Asks Film Community to Help Save It

Scarecrow Video, which bills itself as the world’s largest video library and rents and sells physical media, is in trouble.

The Seattle retailer has released an open letter to the film community saying that due to rising operational costs and a decline in video rental and sales revenue, it will need to raise $1.8 million before the end of the year or risk closing its doors.

For the outlet operating as a nonprofit, the SOS “Save Our Scarecrow” fundraising campaign will ensure it keeps it doors open for many years to come by helping it stay in its current location, while providing staff with a living wage and hiring permanent leadership, and will provide the working capital needed to allow the team time to stabilize the organization, according to a Scarecrow release.
 
Scarecrow Video’s vast library collection features more than 148,000 film and TV titles on multiple formats, from VHS to 4K, including not only recent studio releases, but rare, noncommercial, hard-to-find and out-of-print titles, and complete collections otherwise inaccessible to the general public, according to the release.

Scarecrow Video was established in 1988 as an independent video rental store and transitioned into a non-profit in 2014. The company says it is “dedicated to preserving and making accessible the world’s diverse cinematic cultural heritages through its unparalleled video collection and wide-ranging programs that engage communities nationwide.”
 
For more information on how to help, visit scarecrowvideo.org/sos.
 
The text of the letter reads as follows:
 
“Dear Dedicated Film Community,
 
In 2014, a group of video store clerks came together to form a nonprofit and take over stewardship of one of the most culturally significant video collections. None of us had any background in the nonprofit world, but for a decade we succeeded — largely on the dedication and sacrifice of our devoted staff and an unwavering support base. But in 10 years, many, many things have changed, threatening our ability to continue.
 
In order for us to meaningfully execute our long-term strategy and build for Scarecrow’s future, this campaign has a goal of raising $1.8 million before the end of the year. We know this is an unusually large ask and an ambitious goal.  But we’ve crunched the numbers and this is what it will take to be able to stay in our current location for as long as possible, provide our existing staff with a living wage, hire the permanent leadership we will need to break out of this cycle of scrambling just to keep our heads above water, and provide the working capital we would need to allow our new team time to stabilize our organization.
 
We’ve weathered the extraordinary challenges of the pandemic and the rise of streaming video, and we haven’t had to renew the SOS call — Save Our Scarecrow — for nearly 10 years.
 
Sadly, our valiant efforts to keep things going at Scarecrow have stalled. With rentals and sales revenue dropping 40% since 2015, and major expenses increasing by 25%, the final tipping point has been a nationwide decrease in private and institutional funding, paired with the delayed after-effects of the pandemic.
 
Thus, we find ourselves in a dire situation. Simply put, our ongoing fundraising and cost-cutting efforts are not keeping pace with our needs.
 
So, this is it. This is the SOS.
 
Our situation is urgent, and the stakes have never been higher. If we are unable to raise this money, our ability to keep our doors open will be jeopardized, and we will be forced to move out of our space and go into “hibernation” while we plot a new future for Scarecrow. Keeping one of the world’s largest publicly available video collections intact and accessible is our utmost priority, and though there are still some uncertainties on our path forward, we are not going away.
 
As a cultural museum and living archive, our space is the soul of our organization. It is a place of exploration and discovery of old worlds, new worlds and even into “infinity and beyond!”  We hold the democratic ethos that ALL voices should be heard and have a place to live, which is why the journey through our aisles can take you to places you never would have imagined. Real-world experiences like this are becoming harder and harder to find, and we all must come together to fight to keep them around.
“I’ve been renting videos from Scarecrow for over 25 years, and that location on Roosevelt is so important and inspiring to me,” said Ken Jennings, host of Jeopardy! and a member of Scarecrow’s Board of Directors. “Without a physical space, Scarecrow would become significantly less accessible to movie lovers young and old.  Now is the time for us all to step up in a big way if we want this one-of-a-kind place to stick around.”
While raising this amount is critical for us at this stage, there are still other ways that really help continue our mission including:

We hope you will join us in our efforts to save one of the world’s most important film and television archives. We consider ourselves the caretakers of these 148,000+ voices. Let’s not let them go silent.
 
With hope and commitment,
 
The Scarecrow Video Board of Directors”

Unwind and Rewind: Home Video Industry Veterans to Gather for Los Angeles Reunion in September

What we once called the home video industry is approaching its 50th birthday. But while the concept is still the same — consumers getting to watch what they want, when they want, on demand — what we now call home entertainment, dominated by streaming, bears little resemblance to those early days, when the only way to watch a new movie was to run out to the nearest video rental store and watch in on cassette on the family VCR.

Back then, the business was dominated by thousands upon thousands of mom-and-pop video rental stores, which have virtually disappeared over the last three decades. But many of the pioneers who ran these stores — or worked at the studios and independent home video companies whose primary business at that time was selling these “rentailers” VHS videocassettes at $65 a pop — are still around.

Jodie Francisco, a Sherman Oaks, Calif. realtor whose own home video career ran the gamut from distributor to studio rep, is hoping many of those home video veterans will show up at the upcoming Video Industry Reunion, scheduled for Sept. 12, beginning at 5 p.m., at the Valley Inn Steakhouse and Bar at 4557 Sherman Oaks Ave. in Sherman Oaks.

“Currently, there are nearly 100 people saying they are either coming or interested,” says Francisco, whose own home video career began in 1983 at a national distributor  called Metro Video. “I was able to get a block of rooms at the Marriott Courtyard in Sherman Oaks, which is about one block from our venue.”

Among the well-known names slated to attend the reunion are Dave Mount, the former chairman and CEO of WEA; Rand Bleimeister, who held senior executive positions at such companies as Columbia TriStar Home Video and Nelson Entertainment; Janice Whiffen, a sales executive at Media Home Entertainment and Vestron Video; and Wayne Mogel, the former president and CEO of Star Video Entertainment.

Francisco has fond memories of those early days in home video. “It was like the Wild Wild West — anything goes,” she recalls. “I remember doing video presentations with Ninja dolls because the movies I was promoting at the time were so bad. I have such fond memories of those years, and as we are all getting older, I wanted to create an event to share memories and good times.”

Francisco organized the first Video Industry Reunion in May 2017, with about 75 people in attendance. A second reunion was held in June 2018, “and we had another great turnout,” she recalls. “We also did a FaceTime with Dave Mount, who was celebrating his 75th birthday and couldn’t make it in person. The first two events saw everyone from presidents and CEOs from the studios and indies to distributors, studio reps and retailers.”

“I don’t remember why I didn’t do one in 2019, but then the pandemic hit, so we did two Zoom meetings and had about 30 to 40 people attend virtually. I got inspired to bring back the in-person reunion this year because we’ve lost so many of our friends and colleague during the pandemic that I felt it was high time to meeting in person again.”

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Francisco says that when she began her career in home video 40 years ago, “the business was exploding. I worked at Metro Video and we were opening up new stores on a regular basis. We would take the owners through the warehouse with a shopping cart, and pulled titles off the shelf. It didn’t matter what it was; they just wanted more product! Later, when I moved to being a studio rep, the company I worked for was selling ‘D’ type movies, and they were not of great quality — but my creative presentations allowed me to get the product into the distributors and, ultimately, the retailers. Later on in my career I was intrigued by the internet and all that it had to offer and likened it to the beginning of the video industry. It was the Wild, Wild West all over again.”

For more information on the 2023 Video Industry Reunion, visit the event’s Facebook page or contact Francisco at jodiefrancisco@aol.com.

Funko Offering Blockbuster-Themed Collectibles

Funko, in partnership with 1990s retail giant Blockbuster, has announced the debut of a retro entertainment product line — Rewind — delivering nostalgic collectibles and packaging fashioned around the iconic Blockbuster video store chain design.

Each collectible figure comes encased in VHS-type packaging unique to each IP. Each figure will also come with a membership card designed to mirror Blockbuster’s design.

“With the resurgence of ’80s and ’90s trends, Funko is bringing the best pop culture film moments home with Rewind, helping fans connect over shared memories, while simultaneously complementing the product options from our most sought-after product line,” CEO Brian Mariotti said in a statement.

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The collectibles will be featured during Funko’s “Fun on the Run” cross-country event July 7-19 celebrating it 25th anniversary. Funko will have a branded bus traveling to 10 different locations (starting in Nashville and ending in San Diego for San Diego Comic-Con) where the company will be selling exclusive “Fun on the Run” products (Boxes of Fun). They will also be available on Funko.com. 

Looking Back: 1997 — The Dawn of the DVD Era

Twenty-five years ago, the home entertainment industry was at a turning point. Videocassette rentals, the backbone of the business since it was launched in 1977, were in a slump as the novelty of renting movies wore off. Hoping to revive the business, a consortium of studio executives led by then-Warner Home Video president Warren Lieberfarb developed a new business strategy that involved putting movies on a five-inch disc, which consumers would purchase rather than rent. The soon-to-be-launched DVD was the talk of CES 1997 in January, and dominated the show floor in July at the annual Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA) convention. Not all studios were onboard, and few realized at the time just how enormously successful the DVD would be — and how it would ignite a digital revolution in entertainment that has given us streaming, Netflix and even the ability to watch movies on our phones.

Salzer’s Video Calls It Quits After 41 Years of Renting Videos in Southern California

Salzer’s Video, one of the last big video rental stores, announced via a Facebook page that it is closing down.

The store, located in Oxnard, Calif., is next door to Salzer’s Records, a mainstay of the local music community since 1966.

Owner Jim Salzer, who died last year, opened Salzer’s Video adjacent to the record store in 1980 to take advantage of the burgeoning video rental market. He later became a prominent voice in the Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA), the trade group for video retailers that produced an annual summer convention in Las Vegas that attracted thousands of independent video retailers — and huge show-floor expenditures by the studios to woo them.

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Salzer’s Video proved a worthy competitor to the superstores built by national chains such as Blockbuster and Hollywood Entertainment in the late 1980s and early ’90s, and still carries more than 20,000 titles.

In a Facebook post that went up at 3:19 p.m. PT on Sept. 30, the owners said, “It has been a pleasure serving Ventura County for the last 41 years, but it is time to call it a wrap. As one of the first video stores in the county, we began in a former gas station in 1980 and within five years moved into the superstore we’ve operated out of for the last 36 years. We’ll be having liquidation sales over the next few weekends, so stay tuned for details. We also have some exciting plans for the space to be announced in the near future. Thank you to all of our wonderful customers and employees over the years that have help make us one of the longest-running video rental stores in the country. Please note: our record store is stronger than ever and is NOT part of this closure. – The Salzers.”

In a subsequent post that went up less than an hour later, the Salzers provided more details on the store’s liquidation sales: “We are liquidating our inventory and will be having closeout sales for the next few weekends. This Friday through Sunday (10/1 – 10/3) all DVDs and Blu-rays — $5 each (this includes multiple-disc sets). The following Friday through Sunday (10/8 – 10/10) all DVDs and Blu-rays — TWO for $5. UPDATE: fixtures and other items will be sold at a later date to be determined. We may go a third weekend with even deeper discounts should inventory remain – stay tuned for details.”

Jim Salzer died early on March 15, 2020, after suffering a second fall. He had been hospitalized after an initial fall in late February. Shortly after noon on Sunday, March 15, he posted to Facebook, “I can’t keep up with Facebook currently. I’m having a bad time with recovery. See you on the flip side.”

His daughter, Sage, wrote on his Facebook page that in the late afternoon, “my dad and I FaceTimed and a few more hours passed and he is gone. Grateful for the countless hours we spent around the clock with him in the hospital after he took the first fall, breaking neck and back.”

Before venturing into retail more than 50 years ago, Salzer was a concert promoter, producing shows in Ventura, Santa Barbara and elsewhere in Southern California by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, the Doors, Jefferson Airplane and Buffalo Springfield.

A native of Chicago, Salzer was 78. He was survived by his wife, Nancy, and children Sage and Brandon.

DEG Panel: Transactional Business Still Hardy — and Poised for Takeoff

Despite being squeezed by the pandemic, the transactional business is still sturdy and is poised to take off once new releases in the pipeline grow from a trickle to a steady stream.

That’s according to Galen Smith, CEO of Redbox, and Eddie Cunningham, the former Universal Pictures Home Entertainment president who now runs Studio Distribution Services, the Universal-Warner Bros. disc distribution joint venture. The two executives spoke on a virtual DEG Expo panel March 24 moderated by Media Play News publisher and editorial director Thomas K. Arnold.

As industry pundits have observed, content in the transactional arena, which includes physical disc and digital purchases and rentals, dwarfs what consumers can find via subscription or other streaming services. That content has helped the transactional business survive recent jolts, the executives said.

Even the Blu-ray Disc and DVD business, which has been steadily declining for the last decade, remains a viable business, Cunningham said.

“In 2020 despite a pandemic and despite all the pressure of retail closures around the world … and pretty much no new releases after the first couple of months of the year — there’s still a $7 billion retail market, globally,” Cunningham said of the disc business.

“Obviously the last few months, there haven’t been that many new releases. But as that starts to come back in the second half of this year I think you’re going to see a real resurgence,” Smith added, noting that Redbox, with kiosk rentals driven by new releases, is looking forward to a more consistent flow of new content.

Cunningham said he’s been getting a similar message from the big retailers.

“Everybody’s incredibly excited about the new releases starting to come back into this business,” he said. “And I think we feel good about the fact that the big retailers … seem very, very committed to this category. We’ve got new titles every single week. We spend marketing money. We drive people into stores. We introduce fun. We introduce theater into the stores. … So a lot of them are pretty excited about us getting back into the new-release business. … Maybe we could even find a way of sort of growing this [physical] business or certainly hugely flattening the decline over the next year or two after the numbers we made during the pandemic.”

In the meantime, Cunningham said catalog has been picking up the slack, with such series as “Harry Potter,” “Game of Thrones,” “The Office” and even children’s stalwart “Curious George” selling well despite streaming availability.

“If content is available on subscription services, you can still sell a lot of content physically on those same franchises,” Cunningham noted.

“Then there’s a huge amount, about 40% of consumers, who’ve never ever until this day ever transacted digitally, so they’re a huge target for us,” he said, adding “I think physical’s going to be around for a long time to come.”

The disc rental business, which Redbox dominates with thousands of kiosks in the United States, is here to stay as well, added Smith.

“We obviously have a view that it’s going to be sustainable for the long term,” he said. “It’s a great value to consumers. It’s incredibly convenient. … The fact that we’ve got 41,000 kiosks around the U.S. really helps with that. I think what we’ve been able to do is augment that experience. We’ve got this massive loyalty program with over 37 million people in it, and so we’re rewarding them for behavior and then rewarding them with things like free content and so it gives up a great opportunity for us to reinforce that value ecosystem.”

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Redbox marketing makes sure to let consumers know when new releases are available and doesn’t discriminate between the different ways a consumer might access content. The company offers consumers both physical and digital transaction options, letting them choose.

“We’re communicating with them on a regular basis in terms of what are those [new release] movies, and again, however you want to watch it, physically or digitally, we can be there to serve you with that,” he said.

Even though the company is offering a digital alternative, physical transactions aren’t suffering, Smith noted.

“Even when our customers started to transact digitally, it didn’t mean they stopped transacting physically,” he said. “They actually started transacting physically more. It reminded them again of all these great new movies that are available.”

As head of the disc distribution joint venture, Cunningham said he’s tasked with creating efficiencies and providing a focus on the physical business. The joint venture’s mantra is “two plus two equals five,” to make a bigger whole from the combined parts, he said.

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“The coming together of Universal and Warner and other third-party distribution partners is going to enable us to do things like share boxes coming out of Technicolor, which in turn saves a lot of in-store labor, transport costs and so on,” he said. “I think we’re in a position to start maybe talking a bit more again about some front-of-store displays in some of these big retailers where we’ve lost that.”

Two plus two equals five also means finding ways to leverage the studios’ combined content.

“Over the next year or 18 months you’re going to see some amazing things coming out of [the joint venture],” Cunningham said. “There’s going to be huge opportunities on Middle Earth, DC, Bond, classic monsters. It’s actually the 90th anniversary of Dracula coming up, so we’ve got an opportunity around anniversaries. ‘Fast and Furious,’ ‘Jurassic,’ ‘Dune,’ ‘Halloween,’ there are huge opportunities to draft off these kinds of things.”

He also envisioned boxed sets of titles from different studios as an added bonus for consumers.

“We’re going to work incredibly hard to see how we can put the two studios’ content promotions together and make something bigger,” he said.

Redbox, too, is looking to combine the advantages of different businesses. In addition to its digital and physical transactional offerings, the company also has ad-supported streaming and even a content acquisition and production arm.

“In terms of Redbox Entertainment, we have a ton of data obviously about what actors work, what genres work, and so what we want to do is say, ‘OK, we’re seeing a little less product from the studios, let’s go ahead and buy it, acquire it, produce it ourselves,’” Smith said. “We’re basically making sure that we program to our consumers what we know they are going to want. And we’re agnostic so we’re releasing it across all the digital retailers and then we’re actually selling it to streamers as well on the backend. We just want to make sure there’s good content made for consumers.”

Family Video Launches Promo to #SaveTheVideoStore

As it struggles during the pandemic, Family Video, the last major video store chain, is launching a promotional campaign called #SaveTheVideoStore to drum up consumer support.

With the help of studios and Hollywood talent such as Clerks director Kevin Smith, Family Video is bowing the campaign to celebrate physical media and generate nostalgia for the video store.

“Our plan with this campaign is to not hide from the stark reality that our business has been affected by streaming, COVID and just about everything else this year,” said senior brand manager Derek Dye. “We are hoping to pull at the heartstrings of physical media fans, video store fanatics and movie lovers as a whole to support us in this difficult time for our business.”

The campaign runs Nov. 9 to 22, boosted by a video of support for the chain from Smith, whose Clerks famously included scenes at a video store. But the major push is at the store level.

“We are going for a very grassroots initiative with our stores making signage, posters, painting the windows of our stores to get the word out,” Dye said. “We think that strategy along with the help of media outlets could help us immensely to drive traffic and awareness to our stores.”

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Battered by the pandemic and other hardships, the chain has shut down about 200 of its approximately 500 stores. It now has 300 stores in 17 states.

“It’s been a difficult year,” Dye said.

The nostalgic nature of the video store has not been lost on pop culture, even at a streaming service that is supplanting it, Netflix. Family Video has figured in previous seasons and will be featured prominently in the next season of Netflix’s “Stranger Things.”

Family Video T-shirt

The chain has been successfully selling Family Video retro-looking T-shirts to supplement income and capitalize on the nostalgia for video stores. Family Video has sold more than 700 of the T-shirts at $19.78 (1978 was the year the chain was established). In support of the new initiative, the chain is also selling a new  #SaveTheVideoStore shirt.

“Everybody has a fun memory of video stores,” Dye said.

He hopes the public will get the message that this institution is in trouble and needs fans to come in and support it.

The plea of the campaign, Dye said: “We need your help to save the video store.”

Iconic Video Store and Film Nonprofit Vidiots Relaunching in L.A.

Vidiots, the iconic L.A. video store-turned-film nonprofit, will relaunch in fall of 2020 as an expanded entertainment, social and community space with an adjacent video store in a new home at the historic Eagle Theatre in Los Angeles, according to the Vidiots Foundation.

Restoring the 90-year-old, 200-seat Eagle Theatre as an independent theater with state-of-the-art sound and projection (35mm and DCP), Vidiots will offer a program of repertory titles, new independents, hard-to-find gems, classics and community-driven programs. An adjacent storefront will house Vidiots’ 50,000-plus DVD, Blu-ray and rare VHS collection for rental. The location will also have a multi-purpose, second screening room for film programs, educational workshops, and special events.

Vidiots is currently fundraising and identifying Cornerstone Donors and Corporate Partners for naming rights and is also inviting First-In Founding Members. Founding Members to date include Katie Aselton and Mark Duplass, Jess Wu Calder and Keith Calder, Emily Cook, Mackenzie Davis, Rian Johnson and Karina Longworth, Phil Lord, Nate Moore, and Morgan Neville. Vidiots friend and supporter Jason Reitman is donating a 35mm projection system.

“Vidiots relaunching on the cusp of our 35th birthday is a triumph for Los Angeles film history and cements the legacy of Vidiots founders Patty Polinger and Cathy Tauber as innovators in L.A. film culture,” said Vidiots executive director Maggie Mackay in a statement. “Bringing the Eagle Theatre back and providing L.A. with a long-needed new film space is thrilling. We’re deeply grateful for our valued programming partners present and future, our expert advisors, and especially our First-In Founding Members whose generosity and passionate belief in our mission have made this relaunch possible. Vidiots at the Eagle is a community space created by and for film lovers and filmmakers. We welcome and encourage everyone who believes in our mission to join us as we work towards opening in fall 2020.”

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“Los Angeles should have more movie theaters, not fewer, and Vidiots has come to give all us punch drunk film lovers another place to call home where we can roam the racks. Thank you! So grateful to be a small part of this evolving institution,” said Reitman in a statement.

“We’re thrilled that Vidiots is moving into this next chapter and that our unique library of films will once again be made available to the public, especially in this era of streaming where choices are increasingly limited,” said Vidiots founders Polinger and Tauber in a statement. “Vidiots at the Eagle Theatre is a truly exciting and ambitious plan that revolves around our commitment to archival preservation, education, and accessibility, while maintaining and growing our passionate community of film lovers.”

“When we first moved in together and merged our belongings, we became a two-VCR family — and this was in 2013,” said Longworth and Johnson in a statement. “VHS and video stores were integral to both of us becoming who we are, and we couldn’t be happier to support the evolution of Vidiots and its media library. In a world remade by streaming, it’s never been more important to preserve access to physical media for all.”

“Their efforts towards creating community and preservation made Vidiots legendary in L.A. and I’m so excited to see their philosophy and energy reincarnated in a brick-and-mortar film space on the East Side. I can’t wait to spend all my time there,” said Davis in a statement.

Recently, Vidiots launched a programming partnership with Alamo Drafthouse L.A. with the series “Tales From the Video Store.” Vidiots is currently presenting a monthly 16mm series with Projections at the Bootleg Theater. New programming partnerships with The Black List, The Bob Baker Marionette Theater, and Cinema Eye Honors will launch in late in 2019/early 2020.

Future programming and partner organizations include Art House Convergence, Film Independent, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Outfest, Oxy Arts and the Occidental Media Arts & Culture Department, Sundance Institute, UCLA Film & Television Archive, Women in Film, and Vidéothèque.

Vidiots was opened as an alternative video store in 1985 by L.A. natives Polinger and Tauber. For 32 years Vidiots served its community via the iconic Santa Monica storefront, which shuttered in 2017 in the wake of rising costs. With the support of Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures (which became a major donor in 2015, along with Vidiots customer Dr. Leonard Lipman), Vidiots was able to store its collection and devise an extensive plan for sustainable relaunch in a new home.

The Eagle Theatre in the 1970s

Vidiots’ new home, originally conceived as a vaudeville stage, first opened in May 1929 as The Yosemite Theatre. After a few short days, the Yosemite re-opened as an independent silent movie theater, and a year later it transitioned to sound. In 1940, The Yosemite became The Eagle Theatre. From 1976 to 1979, the theater ran as a Pussycat, part of the adult cinema chain. In 1983, The Eagle once again became a traditional independent cinema, and operated into the 1990s before becoming a series of churches.

With almost-10,000 square feet of entertainment and educational space, Vidiots will operate seven days a week and offer daily screenings and special programs, the full video store with DVD and Blu-ray rentals, concessions, and a light menu with beer and wine. The main theater (200+ seats, a stage, 35mm, DCP, and state-of-the-art sound) will host screenings and tastemaker events. A second, smaller screening and event space (approximately 50 seats with DCP projection) will host screenings, workshops, and receptions.

To make a donation and sign up for email updates, visit vidiotsfoundation.org.